BioWorld International Correspondent

The Dutch Parliament plans to start debate Thursday on a series of proposals that will shape government policy toward biotechnology and thereby determine the overall climate for biotech in the country.

NIABA, the Dutch biotechnology association, has called on its government to embrace biotechnology positively and unambiguously, something, the NIABA claims, it has yet to do.

“We have one problem that is especially urgent: the fact that the Dutch government is giving mixed signals,” NIABA Managing Director Rob Janssen told BioWorld International. “It is pushing the throttle and braking at the same time.”

In a petition submitted last week to the Temporary Biotechnology Commission of the Dutch Parliament, the lobbying group, which represents around 60 companies, warned that the country “threatens to fall behind so far that it will no longer be able to catch up.” This body also is called the Terpstra Commission, after Erica Terpstra, a senior parliamentarian who is leading its deliberations in advance of the full parliamentary debate.

Janssen said it is considering three cabinet papers on biotechnology, covering overall policy on the area, genomics and genetics in human health care.

Dutch legislation governing research on transgenic animals already is quite restrictive, he said, and the country’s parliament is opposed to implementing the EU patents directive on biotechnology. In addition, environment minister Jan Pronk personally is opposed to trials of genetically modified crops, Janssen said, and, as a result, the number of field trials has dropped off dramatically.

On the plus side, the government has put in place investment incentives for start-up companies, Janssen said, and the country has a strong research base in life sciences. But several companies, he said, already have transferred operations from the Netherlands to neighboring territories such as Belgium and Germany, or have decided not to expand their current facilities.

“If we get mixed signals, more companies will reconsider the Netherlands as a place to be,” said Janssen.